The offense took some of the pressure off Bush on Thursday. Ryan Braun's RBI single in the third inning tied the game at 1 before the Brewers scored six runs in the fourth against Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (3-5), who was out after 3 2/3 innings.
Braun led the way with two hits and three RBIs, and Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Gabe Kapler drove in two runs apiece in Milwaukee's second 11-run outburst in five games. Kapler doubled three times in the game and Hardy and Corey Hart hit home runs.
"In that [fourth] inning, the bad inning, he kind of blew up a bit," Hardy said of De La Rosa, who was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits. "He's got really good stuff. It's hard to explain when somebody has that good stuff and they blow up like that."
Bush experienced no such letdown. In the top of the first inning, Rockies center fielder Willy Taveras reached on an error by third baseman Bill Hall that was initially ruled a hit, then motored to third on a stolen base and another error charged to Mike Rivera. Taveras scored on Clint Barmes' RBI single for a 1-0 Rockies lead.
After those two batters, Bush was nearly unhittable. He retired the next nine batters in order, and 23 of the next 24, before Jayson Nix doubled with two outs in the eighth inning. Bush was at the 120-pitch mark at that point, so he drew a visit from Brewers manager Ned Yost.
Right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who was warming in the bullpen, apparently believed he was in the game. He tossed a baseball into the stands and then headed toward the bullpen door.
Instead, Yost stuck with Bush for one more hitter. He struck out Taveras for whiff No. 13.
"I get nervous at 120 pitches," Yost said. "The fans get excited, they get emotional, but it's my job to maintain [the pitchers'] health. I knew that we have a four-day All-Star break coming and there would be time before 'Bushie' pitches again, and he could absorb the extra [pitches]."
In eight innings, Bush allowed one unearned run on three hits with no walks. It was a nearly identical outing to Saturday's against the Pirates, in which Bush allowed a run on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. He has won his last three starts at home, working eight innings in all three.
On Thursday, Bush finished with 124 pitches.
With Sabathia in the mix, the Brewers have six starting pitchers for five spots, assuming veteran Jeff Suppan returns from the disabled list when he's eligible on July 22. One idea being floated is a fifth-starter platoon of sorts between Bush, who would start home games, and Seth McClung, who would start on the road. Bush has much better splits at Miller Park (he is now 4-2 at home with a 2.49 ERA).
"I don't know," Yost said when asked to explain those splits. "You guys tell me. I asked [pitching coach] Mike Maddux and he said the mound is really good here. So I thought, 'OK.' But boy, [Bush] was as good as it gets."
Bush struck out Rockies reliever Luis Vizcaino for his 500th career strikeout in the fifth inning and got called third strikes on catcher Omar Quintanilla and Tavarez in the top of the eighth inning to finish with 13 whiffs in the game. He once notched 12 strikeouts in a Minor League game, and his previous Major League high was 11, set on Oct. 1, 2004, against the Yankees when Bush pitched for the Blue Jays.
After Sheets' 11-strikeout game on Wednesday, Brewers starters reached double digits in strikeouts in consecutive games for the first time since Juan Nieves and Teddy Higuera struck out 10 apiece on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, 1987.
Bush tried not to count along.
"I knew that was more than normal for me," Bush said. "I'm not typically a high strikeout guy, and as I was going I knew I had more than usual. At the end I kind of saw how many it was."
What has made the difference?
"Having some successful outings gives you some confidence," Bush said. "Confidence kind of ebbs and flows throughout the season, so once I got going, that definitely helped. Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself at the beginning of the season."